A suspected Islamist Christmas bomb plot was foiled yesterday when armed police swooped in co-ordinated pre-dawn raids.
Fearing they had found a possible bomb factory in a flat over a fish and chip shop, counter-terrorism officers urgently evacuated dozens of neighbours from their homes.
Police dragged a 31-year-old man from his bed and led him away wearing only his underwear.
He was named last night as Andy Sami Star, 31, an Iraqi national who is understood to be the owner of the chip shop and to live in a flat above with his brother.
An Army bomb disposal unit from the Royal Logistics Corps was also sent to the property in Chesterfield, Derbyshire.
At the same time armed officers stormed into three properties 15 miles away in Sheffield by blowing off the front doors and using stun grenades.
Police evacuated an area in Chesterfield while bomb squad officers (pictured left) assessed the scene. At the same time officers stormed into three properties in Sheffield (right)
Police at the scene of one of the raids in Chesterfield which appeared to involve a flat above a fish and chip shop
An officer is seen searching aboce the ceiling of the Mermaid Fish Bar in Chesterfield following the raids and arrests
Police descended on the chip shop and are thought to have raided the flat above it
Officers smashed windows and doors to gain entry to the properties, such as the Fatima Community Centre on Brunswick Road, in Sheffield
One of the houses raided was in Shirebrook Road, Sheffield, where locals claim they heard an explosion at around 5.30am
Police raided a flat at the back of the Fatima Community Centre, a building used as a mosque and for teaching Arabic to children.
A local pensioner said: ‘I heard three loud bangs like a bomb going off and looked out to see six armed police officers in riot gear. They brought somebody out from the back of the building and took him away.’
Amar Ghaman, the manager of the community centre, said two men who had recently rented the flat had been arrested.
The operation, which involved the search of five properties in total, was the result of a long-running covert investigation involving Islamic extremism.
Senior officers believed component parts of a bomb were possibly being assembled and decided to act early yesterday.
Police arrested four men, aged 22, 31, 36 and 41, on suspicion of preparing or instigating acts of terrorism.
Detectives refused to reveal details of what was found or the ethnicity of the suspects, but the operation was said to be ‘intelligence led and pre-planned’.
The operation in Chesterfield appeared to focus on a flat above the Mermaid Traditional Fish Bar. It is understood the business has recently been sold.
Neighbours suggested that people who constantly ‘coming and going’ to the flat, while it has also been reported that ‘secret codes’ were used to gain entry.
Officers banged on their doors at around 9am and told them they had ten minutes to get out.
Police guard the Fatima Community Centre in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, after it was raided by counter-terror police
A spokesperson from the North East Counter Terrorism Unit confirmed that police are now searching five addresses in an ‘Islamist related’ investigation. Pictured, police in King Street North in Chesterfield
Those living in three streets nearby were told to go to Chesterfield football stadium, less than half a mile away, while searches were carried out.
One neighbour said the two brothers who lived in the flat above the chip shop split their time between Chesterfield and Sheffield.
Another neighbour, Jordan Batteson, 25, said: ‘I saw a guy being taken out, he had no top on, it looked like he was just wearing boxer shorts.’
A spokesman for the North-East Counter Terrorism Squad said the evacuation was a ‘precautionary measure in the interests of public safety’. Part of the police cordon was lifted at around 4pm but police remained at the scene overnight.
In Sheffield residents were woken at around 5.30am by armed police blowing the front doors off three properties in co-ordinated raids. Neighbours looked outside to see counter-terrorism police carrying rifles and storming into homes under cover of darkness.
At Shirebrook Road in Sheffield a 41-year-old man was arrested at a rundown terrace house after the dramatic armed raid.
Police guard an address on Shirebrook Road, Sheffield which was one of the properties raided
The Fatima Community Centre was being watched by officers throughout the afternoon
The bomb squad put a cordon in place and evacuated residents in Chesterfield
The bomb disposal squad was called out to handle ‘packages’ at at least one of the properties
Neighbour Lizzie Fogarty, 27, said: ‘The police were all in black with helmets on and guns with a torch aimed at the house. All you could hear was, “Get down, get down”. I could hear them sweeping the house.’
Miss Fogarty said there had been a lot of ‘coming and going’ from the house recently.
About four miles across the city police carried out two similar pre-dawn raids in the Burngreave area and arrested men aged 22 and 36.
Explosions were again heard as police forced their way into a ground floor flat. It is located about 200 yards from the flat behind the Fatima Community Centre that was also raided.
Police have carried out five raids in the ‘Islamist-related’ investigation. While the NECTU will not reveal individual addresses, officers are known to have searched properties in:
Shirebrook Road, Meersbrook, Sheffield
Stocksbridge Gents Barbers in Stocksbridge, Sheffield
Whittington Moor, Chesterfield
Verdon Street, Burngreave, Sheffield
Fatima Community Centre, on Brunswick Road, Burngreave, Sheffield
By 8.30am the police operation had moved to Stocksbridge, a town on the outskirts of Sheffield. Officers were waiting outside a Kurdish-owned barber’s shop and said to be looking for a man of eastern European origin.
Owner Mohammed Ojaky, 31, said police searched the hairdresser’s and his flat above and left with the CCTV camera.
He said: ‘They showed me details of a man and said they thought he was connected to here. I did not know this man.
‘I was happy for them to search here and let them into the flat, but they then left and we opened as usual.’
Mr Ojaky is originally from Kurdistan and has lived in the UK for 13 years. His staff are all Kurdish. He said: ‘There were 15 or 20 officers here and many were armed. It was a big shock.’
As a result of the raids security was stepped up elsewhere, with armed police patrolling the Christmas markets in Manchester.
The arrests came as police and MI5 tackle a terror threat that is seen as unprecedented.
In addition to five attacks in London and Manchester this year, security agencies have foiled nine plots since the Westminster atrocity in March.
Four addresses in Sheffield – with one in the Meersbrook area, two in Burngreave and one in the Stocksbridge area – and another in Chesterfield, are being searched by police. Pictured is the Fatima Community Centre in Sheffield
There is a heavy police presence in King Street, in Chesterfield as officers raid properties
ANTI-TERROR CHIEF WARNED OF CHRISTMAS ATTACKS
Chris Phillips, who was once head of the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, has said there should be ‘no surprise’ if terrorists strike before December 25.
He warned that it would be impossible for police to ensure the entire country’s safety because of the sheer number of potential threats.
His warning came after posters of Santa Claus kneeling before an ISIS executioner on London’s Regent Street, and a jihadi with a bloody knife looking out over a Paris Christmas market with the Eiffel Tower in the background were shared online last month.
Both images carried the message ‘Soon on your holidays’ in English, French, and German.
The country’s current threat level has seen more armed police on the streets and bollards erected on pavements to prevent vehicle attacks.
A next door neighbour of the house in Shirebrook Road said he knew who lived next door and they were ‘all nice lads.’
The man, who did not wish to be named, said: ‘I heard a big bang, which turned out to be the charge they used to open the door.
‘I then went to my housemate and we were watching the whole thing from out the window, we saw various armed special forces and the counter terrorism unit coming in and out and then the guy came out.
‘I don’t know the guys from next door very well but we have had fires in the past and they have come down, they seemed like nice lads, it’s a shame really.
‘I am shocked.’
A police spokesperson has confirmed that a loud bang heard by residents was not an explosion but a bang created when they were gaining entry.
Police confirmed all the properties are currently being searched and the men have been taken to a police station in West Yorkshire for questioning.
The arrests were intelligence led and pre-planned as part of an ongoing investigation by Counter Terrorism Policing North East.
The police raid in Chesterfield has led to a nearby primary school keeping children inside as a precaution
Police in Chesterfield: The arrests were intelligence led and pre-planned as part of an ongoing investigation by Counter Terrorism Policing North East
Police guard the Fatima Community Centre, on Brunswick Road, in Sheffield, South Yorkshire
A spokesman for the North East Counter Terrorism Policing Unit added: ‘The men have been taken to a police station in West Yorkshire for questioning.
‘The arrests were intelligence led and pre-planned as part of an ongoing investigation.
‘Three properties in Sheffield and one in Chesterfield are currently being searched in connection with these arrests.
‘We recognise that local people may have concerns as a result of this activity. We would ask people to remain alert but not alarmed and we are grateful for the assistance and understanding of people locally.
‘Residents will be kept as informed as possible and we are grateful for their understanding, patience and support while these enquiries continue.’
A property in Shirebrook Road, Sheffield is being searched after it was raided in the early hours
A further raid in Chesterfield at Whittington Moor has led to Cavendish Junior School (pictured) keeping children inside as a precaution
Police confirmed all the properties are currently being searched and the men have been taken to a police station in West Yorkshire for questioning
South Yorkshire Police Superintendent for the Sheffield area Una Jennings said: ‘I understand our local communities will have concerns about this morning’s police activity but I want to offer my reassurance that we will continue to serve and protect the public of South Yorkshire.
‘We work very closely with our colleagues at the North East Counter Terrorism Unit and we will ensure we maintain these strong links in order to provide a high level of service and delivery to everyone in our community. Public safety is our utmost concern.’
The operation was mounted as police and MI5 tackle a terror threat seen as unprecedented.
In addition to five attacks in London and Manchester, Home Secretary Amber Rudd revealed earlier this month that security agencies have foiled nine plots since the Westminster atrocity in March.
Police are pictured at the scene of the raid on the Fatima Community Centre today
Two bomb trucks were seen in the area this evening following today’s police operation
Counter-terror teams are running about 500 live investigations involving 3,000 individuals at any one time, while there is also a wider pool of 20,000 subjects of previous probes.
A woman, who did not wish to be named and lives opposite the property that was raided on Kings Road North, said: ‘I was watching telly and saw police knocking on a neighbour’s door.
‘The next minute they were banging on my door and shouted, ‘you have 10 minutes to get out, we’re evacuating’. I was really panicking.
‘It’s a Syrian family who lives there, they didn’t speak much.
‘He definitely had children, he had a beard, and he dressed trendy. He had two little kids, one was in a pushchair. His wife had a headscarf, they kept themselves to themselves, really.’
A door appears to have been forced off its hinges during the raid
It is thought that the door was removed by police as they rushed into the premises
In Meersbrook, retired Joan Miller, 63, said she was woken by a loud bang at 5.30am and looked out of her window to see plain-clothed armed officers in the street.
Ms Miller said: ‘It was a very loud bang. It shook the house. I pulled the curtains and saw lots of armed men in the street, so I kept watching because that was quite extraordinary.’
Ms Miller and others in the street said they did not know who lived in the house opposite, which is in a dilapidated state.
She said: ‘All sorts of different people have been living there.’
A man living near the Fatima Community Centre, on Brunswick Road, said he was woken by a three louds bangs in quick succession and then saw at least six men with rifles in camouflage and body armour.
He said he saw them bring out one man and put him in a police van.
The man said the building used to be the local Irish club but was taken over about 10 years ago and is now used as a mosque and community centre.
He said: ‘There are people in there all hours of the day and night.’
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